Nutmeg (Myristica Fragrans)

NUTMEG - Patricia G. Solley, 1997 -

The seed of an evergreen tree, native to the Molucca Islands of Indonesia, which grows to a height of 60 feet...and grows best by the sea in rich, moist soil. Nutmeg was one of the spices carefully held in monopoly by the Dutch in the Moluccas.

NUTMEG - extracted from the pages of Gernot Katzer -

Origin - Naturally, nutmeg is limited to the Banda Islands, a tiny archipelago in Eastern Indonesia (Moluccas). Main producing countries today are Indonesia (East Indian Nutmeg) and Grenada (West Indian Nutmeg); the latter is regarded as inferior.

Two more nutmeg species are found as adulterants of true nutmeg or mace: M. argentea (Macassar Nutmeg, Papua Nutmeg) from New Guinea and M. malabarica (Bombay Nutmeg, Wild Nutmeg) from South India. While the latter lacks fragrance, the former is described as pungent and wintergreen-like. Both adulterants can be identified by their seeds' shape: Whereas true Banda nutmegs are shaped globularily to egg-like, with their largest dimension at most 50% longer than the smallest, the two other species feature strongly prolate seeds more reminiscent to acorns (oak seeds) than eggs.

Because of its very limited geographical distribution, nutmeg and mace became known in Europe comparatively late ( century) by Arab traders; it was first used chiefly for flavouring beer (see gale). The spice was thought to originate from India. Although nutmeg was available in Europe since the century, significant trade started not before the century, when Portuguese ships sailed to India and further, to the famed spice islands (moluccas).

During the century, the Dutch succeeded in monopolizing the nutmeg trade, as they did with cloves. Keeping the monopoly was easy as the Banda islands were so tiny and isolated; the natives, unwilling to cooperate with the Dutch colonial regime and its governor Jan Pieterszoon Coen, were nearly exterminated: Only a few hundred of former 15000 Bandanese survived the 1621 war and fled to the more Southern Tanimbar archipelago. Arab traders and Chinese workers came to fill up population, working force was cheap because of slavery and nutmeg production brought enormous profits despite the expensive wars. This was simply because the demand for nutmeg in Europe was constantly high during the whole century and the Dutch East-India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) could dictate the prices at will. This situation changed only in the century, when the French succeeded in smuggling nutmeg trees from the Bandas and thereby broke the Dutch monopoly.

To any visitor of the beautiful Banda islands, nutmeg's history is still present: An ethnically divers population, a Chinese temple side-to-side to the mosque, European-style streetlights featuring ripe nutmegs, beautiful colonial houses, a dominating Dutch fort and a city museum showing both greatly decorated colonial living rooms and paintings of the cruel wars - all these are witnesses from a time when the Bandas were the center of Dutch power and interest, and not just a romantic and quiet archipelago, far away from economical or political importance.

Today, nutmeg's popularity has shrunken and the spice is less used, still most in Arab countries, Iran and Northern India, where both nutmeg and mace appear in delicately-flavoured meat dishes. The Northern Indian spice mixture garam masala (see cumin) also may contain nutmeg or mace, as well as compositions of Moroccan ras el hanout (see cubeb pepper), neighbouring Tunisia (gâlat dagga, see grains of paradise) and Saudi Arabia (baharat, see paprika).

In Western cuisine, nutmeg and mace are more popular for cakes, crackers and stewed fruits; nutmeg is sometimes used to flavour cheese (fondue, béchamel sauce). The combination of spinach with nutmeg is somewhat a classic, especially for Italian stuffed noodles. The greatest lovers of nutmeg in today's Europe, though, are the Dutch. They use it for cabbage, potato and other vegetables, but also for meat, soups, stews and sauces.

The classical French spice mixture quatre épices (meaning "four spices"), which goes back to cooking traditions in the baroque era, contains nutmeg in combination with much black pepper, cloves and ginger; further, optional ingredients are allspice and cinnamon. All components are finely ground together. The resulting powder is mostly used to flavour meat dishes, especially such which are cooked or braised for a rather long time, e.g. stews and ragouts, sometimes also for sausages and pastries. In character, it is a kind of "enhanced" and "fortified" pepper; thus, it may be used whenever black pepper is prescribed, but a richer and deeper aroma is desired.

Since quite a large fraction of nutmeg is today grown in Grenada, nutmeg has entered several Caribbean cuisines. In Grenada, it's omnipresent, the locals even eating nutmeg-flavoured ice cream! Nutmeg is an optional ingredient in a famous Caribbean spice paste, Jamaican jerk (see allspice).

NUTMEG - extracted from the pages of One Planet -

Spice consisting of the seed of the Myristica fragrans, a tropical, dioecious evergreen tree native to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, of Indonesia. Nutmeg has a distinctive, pungent fragrance and a warm, slightly sweet taste; it is used to flavour many kinds of baked goods, confections, puddings, meats, sausages, sauces, vegetables, and such beverages as eggnog. Grated nutmeg has been used as a sachet; the Romans used it as incense. Around 1600 it became important as an expensive commercial spice of the Western world and was the subject of Dutch plots to keep prices high and of English and French counterplots to obtain fertile seeds for transplantation. The nutmegs sold whole were dipped in lime to prevent their sprouting. Connecticut is known as "The Nutmeg State" because of its importance in the nutmeg trade. History books sometimes include tales of slick Yankee peddlers selling whittled wooden "nutmegs" to unsuspecting housewives.

The tree is cultivated in the Moluccas and the West Indies principally, and elsewhere with varying success. The trees may reach a height of about 65 feet (20 metres). They yield fruit 8 years after sowing, reach their prime in 25 years, and bear fruit for 60 years or longer. The nutmeg fruit is a pendulous drupe, similar in appearance to an apricot. When fully mature it splits in two, exposing a crimson-coloured aril, the mace, surrounding a single shiny, brown seed, the nutmeg. The pulp of the fruit is eaten locally. After collection, the aril-enveloped nutmegs are conveyed to curing areas where the mace is removed, flattened out, and dried. The nutmegs are dried gradually in the sun and turned twice daily over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat until the kernels rattle in their shells when shaken. The shell is then broken with a wooden truncheon and the nutmegs are picked out. Dried nutmegs are grayish-brown ovals with furrowed surfaces. Large ones may be about 1 1/4 inches (30 millimetres) long and 3/4 inch in diameter.

Nutmeg and mace contain 7 to 14 percent essential oil, the principal components of which are pinene, camphene, and dipentene. Nutmeg on expression yields about 24 to 30 percent fixed oil called nutmeg butter, or oil of mace, the principal component of which is trimyristin. The oils are used as condiments and carminatives and to scent soaps and perfumes. An ointment of nutmeg butter has been used as a counter-irritant and in treatment of rheumatism.

The name nutmeg is also applied in different countries to other fruits or seeds: the Jamaica, or calabash, nutmeg derived from Monodora myristica; the Brazilian nutmeg from Cryptocarya moschata; the Peruvian nutmeg from Laurelia aromatica; the Madagascar, or clove, nutmeg from Ravensara aromatica; and the California, or stinking, nutmeg from Torreya californica.

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